Unexamined Premises

'New York Times' to Its Reporters: Knock Off the Partisan Tweeting

'New York Times' to Its Reporters: Knock Off the Partisan Tweeting
What's that smell? (AP Photo)

I’ve been banging on about this journalistic disgrace on Twitter (@dkahanerules) for months, and finally even the Times has had enough. 

The New York Times announced on Friday an updated and expanded set of guidelines for our journalists’ use of social media.

The new guidelines underscore our newsroom’s appreciation for the important role social media now plays in our journalism, but also call for our journalists to take extra care to avoid expressing partisan opinions or editorializing on issues that The Times is covering.

In the interest of transparency, we’ve included the complete guidelines below, along with an introductory memo sent to the newsroom by Dean Baquet, our executive editor.

There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when the Times wouldn’t even allow its reporters on television, so as not to compromise their professional integrity. But since the beginning of the Trump administration, it has sat by and let its White House correspondents, Maggie Haberman and Glenn “Hack” Thrush, merrily voice their contempt for the president, his staff, and his political party multiples times per day.

Whether either of them should even be on the White House beat — given that they were both compromised by the DNC and Podesta emails published by Wikileaks — is something that the White House communications department should really be objecting to, but of course won’t. And the reason it won’t is that — as several White House insiders have told me — the president talks to Haberman constantly. “You don’t understand,” one of them explained to me, “the president likes Maggie Haberman.” You can follow her tweets here. Thrush, in a true spirit of professionalism and collegiality, blocked me long ago; he might want to take note of one of the rules below, which I’ve helpfully put in bold face:

So here’s the New Rules:

• In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.

• Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that The Times is seeking to cover objectively.

• These guidelines apply to everyone in every department of the newsroom, including those not involved in coverage of government and politics.

Peter Baker says: “It’s important to remember that tweets about President Trump by our reporters and editors are taken as a statement from The New York Times as an institution, even if posted by those who do not cover him. The White House doesn’t make a distinction. In this charged environment, we all need to be in this together.”

• We consider all social media activity by our journalists to come under this policy. While you may think that your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media accounts are private zones, separate from your role at The Times, in fact everything we post or “like” online is to some degree public. And everything we do in public is likely to be associated with The Times.

Nick Confessore says: “The reality is that my Twitter account is a Times account. The Times does not control it, but the Times is held accountable for what appears on my feed. Indeed, the casual reader interprets my social accounts as an extension of our digital platforms, for good and ill. I think all of us at the Times need to embrace this as the price of our employment by a major media institution. (And in fairness, to the extent my Twitter account is influential or widely read, it is largely because I am employed by The Times.)”

• On that same note, we strongly discourage our journalists from making customer service complaints on social media. While you may believe that you have a legitimate gripe, you’ll most likely be given special consideration because of your status as a Times reporter or editor.

• Avoid joining private and “secret” groups on Facebook and other platforms that may have a partisan orientation. You should also refrain from registering for partisan events on social media. If you are joining these groups for reporting purposes, please take care in what you post.

• Always treat others with respect on social media. If a reader questions or criticizes your work or social media post, and you would like to respond, be thoughtful. Do not imply that the person hasn’t carefully read your work.

• If the criticism is especially aggressive or inconsiderate, it’s probably best to refrain from responding. We also support the right of our journalists to mute or block people on social media who are threatening or abusive. (But please avoid muting or blocking people for mere criticism of you or your reporting.)

Rukmini Callimachi says: “I used to get really upset and respond to abuse  which only made it worse. What I finally discovered is that if I just aggressively block the abusive people, I can control the flow  and that’s, I think, because people who speak that way to women are generally followed by other people who think it’s O.K. to use crass words. By blocking anyone and everyone who uses abusive terms, I am able to halt the conversation. I think this is especially important as a strategy for women, at a time when people think that rape memes are a good way to respond to a story they don’t like by a female New York Times writer.”

• If you feel threatened by someone on social media, please inform your supervisors immediately. The Times has policies in place to protect the safety of our journalists.

• We believe in the value of using social media to provide live coverage and to offer live updates. But there may be times when we prefer that our journalists focus their first efforts on our own digital platforms.

• We generally want to publish exclusives on our own platforms first, not on social media, but there may be instances when it makes sense to post first on social media. Consult your supervisors for guidance.

• Be transparent. If you tweeted an error or something inappropriate and wish to delete the tweet, be sure to quickly acknowledge the deletion in a subsequent tweet. Please consult our social media corrections policy for guidance.

• If you are linking to other sources, aim to reflect a diverse collection of viewpoints. Sharing a range of news, opinions or satire from others is usually appropriate. But consistently linking to only one side of a debate can leave the impression that you, too, are taking sides.

• Exercise caution when sharing scoops or provocative stories from other organizations that The Times has not yet confirmed. In some cases, a tweet of another outlet’s story by a Times reporter has been interpreted as The Times confirming the story, when it in fact has not.

• We want our journalists to feel that they can use social media to experiment with voice, framing and reporting styles — particularly when such experiments lead to new types of storytelling on The Times’s platforms.

Margot Sanger-Katz says: “Part of what’s fun and interesting about these other platforms is that they are a little different from The Times’s article pages in tone and framing: You can ask questions about things you don’t know, make little jokes, express surprise, share others’ work, etc. Part of why I find Twitter useful, and a worthwhile use of my time, is that I find it helpful to engage in conversation with experts and readers and test out ideas in a less formal way and with less certainty than I would in an article. (That said, I am always conscious that any of my tweets can end up getting quoted elsewhere as the statements of a Times reporter.)”

• Of course, it’s worth emphasizing again that just because our journalists can try new things on social media, that does not mean they have a license to veer into editorializing or opinion.

Good for Baquet. Let’s hope the outright partisans at the Times get the message, although the practical effect will likely be that they’ll just bury their hatred and contempt in their dispatches, and will once again hide under the shield of “objectivity.”

Meanwhile, the Times can give Baquet’s memo some teeth at the copy desk level… except — whoops! — it just got rid of most of its copy editors. Oh well…

Join the conversation as a VIP Member